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February 17, 2008

Secret Islands in Southeast Asia: Pulau Lang Tengah (Malaysia), Ko Lipe (Thailand), and Koh Rong (Cambodia)

Lang Tengah Island, Malaysia (Blue sky and cystal clear water in Pulau Lang Tengah, Malaysia)
The islands in Thailand are no longer a secret. The words are out about the beautiful and pristine islands in the Philippines, tourists and backpackers alike are starting to discover the islands and beaches of Cambodia and Vietnam - but fret not, there are still some secret island hideaways in South East Asia that are still untouched by mass tourism and completely off the tourist paths. As an island snob, I want my island to look like a picture perfect island wall paper on my computer - swaying coconut trees, alabaster sands, crystal clear water, lush tropical jungle, and offers lots of privacy. If an island has powdery white sands, it also means that the sea is fringed with coral reefs and teeming sea lives and will make activities like snorkeling and diving possible.In this guide, I will take you to the lesser known tropical islands in Southeast Asia: Ko Lipe in Thailand, Koh Rong in Cambodia, and Lang Tengah Island in Malaysia.

Pulau Lang Tengah, Malaysia

Compared to its more famous sister islands such as the Perhentians and Pulau Redang, Pulau Lang Tengah is not as well-known, which means you can still pretty much have the island to yourself and avoid and tourists crowd. Currently, Lang Tengah attracts only some enthusiast divers, and accommodations are provided by four resorts. These resorts offer very basic accommodations with chalets dotting the beach. If you are looking for more amenities, I strongly recommend the newest D' Coconut Lagoon. This resort has its own private beach (albeit a very small one), a swimming pool, and PADI dive courses. Overall, the services are pretty good and you get a rustic feeling staying in one of their bungalows since they are located in a secluded corner of the island.

For activities, snorkeling and diving are great around Lang Tengah Island. If you have more time, you can also charter a boat to explore the underwater scenes in the nearby Redang Marine Park and the Perhentians.

How to get there:

Malaysia Airlines flies to Kuala Lumpur from all the major cities in the world. Once you get to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), take the Malaysian low cost carrier Air Asia to Kuala Terengganu. Then proceed to Merang jetty with a taxi and take a speedboat to Pulau Lang Tengah. The resorts on Lang Tengah Island offer packages that include meals, snorkeling and/or diving trips, and boat transfers.

Accommodation:

Best time to visit:May to September. Avoid the monsoon season from October till February.

Ko Lipe, Thailand

Near the border of Thailand and Malaysia lies a tiny and beautiful island called Ko Lipe. Together with Ko Adang, Ko Rawi and other smaller islands, they form the island Ko Adang-Ko Rawi archipelago located 40 km away from Tarutao National Park. Inhibited by only 500 Chao Náam/sea gypsies, this is your Robinson Crusoe island. Unlike Phuket, Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lanta, Ko Lipe is still very undeveloped and rustic. Most of the bungalows are pretty basic with fan, and they usually shut off their electricity after 9 pm. For air conditioning and full electricity, stay at Varin Resort or Mountain Resort.

Ko Lipe is blessed with long white sandy beaches, warm turquoise water, and some secluded bays while Ko Adang and Ko Ravi's mountainous slopes provide good hiking and jungle trekking. For snorkeling and diving, head over to the local dive shops on Ko Lipe and arrange a trip around Ko Lipe, Ko Adang, and Ko Rawi. The coral reefs here are healthy and intact with a wealth of tropical fish and marine life. You can also island hop to other smaller islands such as Ko Ngai and Ko Hin Gham. At Ko Hin Gham, check out the natural stones in decorative patterns which are scattered about the beach. When night falls, head over to Pooh Lipe bar and enjoy the only live music on the island.

How to get there:

From Bangkok, you can take a night train or fly with a low cost carrier to Hat Yai. Take a minibus to Pak Bara from across the Hat Yai Train Station. The journey takes about 2 hours.

From Pak Bara, take a ferry to Ko Lipe. Ferry schedules are subject to change, so please get the latest information from your resort.From Southern Thailand (Phuket, Krabi, etc.), the easiest way is to travel to Trang Bus Station and then take a minibus to Pak Bara. The journey takes about 1.5 hours. From Pak Bara, take a ferry to Ko Lipe. Ferry schedules are subject to change, so please get the latest information from your resort.

From Langkawi, Malaysia, there are normally four ferries to Ko Lipe during high season, but in the low season, the schedule could change due to weather condition. The ferry departs from Telaga Harbour at Langkawi to Koh Lipe. For enquiry, please contact Tel: +604 9592202 or email info@telagaharbour.com.

Accommodation:

  • Varin Resort: +66 (0)1 543 0505
  • Mountain Resort: +66 (0)74 728 131
  • Pooh Lipe: +66 74 728 018
Best time to visit:

December through May.

Koh Rong, Cambodia

When people think of Cambodia tourism, the first thing that comes to mind is the mystical ruins at Angkor Archaeological Park. Seldom do people think of the kingdom as a place that offers R&R in terms of sun, sands, and sea. This is probably one of the biggest misconceptions as Cambodia does have its fair share of beaches and tropical islands.

Along the south coast, you will find beach towns dotting the shore, most notably Sihanoukville, or Kampong Som, as the locals call it. There are more than a dozen islands off the coast of Sihanoukville; the most pristine and beautiful of all are Koh Rong and the smaller Ko Rong Salaam. These islands are yet to be developed for an overnight stay but resorts and local dive shops at Sihanoukville offer day trips. Picnic and BBQ could be arranged.

Once the day trip is arranged, just hop on the boat and go island hopping. Once you find your perfect spot, just ask your guide to drop you off and you can pretty much have the whole beach or island to yourself. With its powdery white sandy beaches, crystal clear azure water, and tranquility, Ko Rong Salaam easily tops my chart as one of the most beautiful islands I have been to.If you are adventurous, you can camp overnight as it has fresh water resources and a fishing village with basic supplies such as fresh water and seafood. So fire up a bonfire and have a BBQ on the beach…life can't get any better than that.

How to get there:

From Phnom Penh, you can travel by bus or taxi to Sihanoukville. There are several daily buses between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville and the bus is relatively comfortable with air conditioning. These buses depart the bus station on Charles de Gaulle, next to the Central Market.

For day trips or overnight trips to Ko Rong, contact the two main dive operations in town - Scuba Nation and Eco-Sea.

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January 8, 2008

Tropical Dreamin' on a Cold Winter Night

Aquamarine Sea Water at Pulau Lang Tengah (Lang Tengah Island), MalaysiaAquamarine sea water at Pulau Lang Tengah, east coast of Peninsula Malaysia. ("Pulau" means island in Malay language.)

Powdery sand. Turquoise sea. Sea turtles. Coral reef. Colorful fish. Local people. Blue sky. White clouds. Sun. Warmth. Ocean breeze. Coconut trees. Happiness!

Tropical dreamin' on a cold California winter night...

(Continue dreaming here, here, here, and here.)

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